Romney Losing His Edge On The Economy?
Even though he’s never really been able to overtake President Obama in the polls, the one thing that Mitt Romney has had going for him since the General Election race began was the fact that he consistently out-polled the President when it came to the question of who voters trusted more to fix the economy. If nothing else, it was a perfect display of the one area in which the President has been vulnerable, and it provided some hope to Romney supporters as to a possible path to victory. Hit the President on the economy, the theory goes, and the voters will come around. Given the generally negative economic news, it was indeed good news for the Romney camp to cling to, although many people kept pointing out that Romney continued to trail the President in the polls even though we’ve been getting month after month of bad jobs reports.
Now, though, it looks like Mitt Romney may be losing his advantage on economic issues:
President Obama has taken away Mitt Romney’s longstanding advantage as the candidate voters say is most likely to restore the economy and create jobs, according to the latest poll by The New York Times and CBS News, which found a modest sense of optimism among Americans that White House policies are working.
But while the climate for Mr. Obama has improved since midsummer, and Mr. Romney has failed to shift sentiment decisively in his favor, the poll found that the presidential race is narrowly divided. The outcome could still turn on unexpected events and how the candidates are perceived after their three debates next month.
With their conventions behind them and the general election campaign fully engaged, the Democratic Party is viewed more favorably than the Republican Party. The poll also found that more likely voters give an edge to Mr. Obama on foreign policy, Medicare and addressing the challenges of the middle class. The only major issue on which Mr. Romney held an advantage was handling the federal budget deficit.
The nationwide poll was conducted during a turbulent week in the campaign, with a new torrent of television ads from Mr. Romney, a disappointing jobs report for Mr. Obama and both candidates reacting to deadly violence in Egypt, Libya and across the Arab world.
Among those considered most likely to vote, the president was the choice of 49 percent to 46 percent for Mr. Romney, including those who said they were leaning in one direction or another. It is within the survey’s margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points for each candidate.
The president holds a 10-point advantage on who would do a better job handling foreign policy, with 4 in 10 voters very confident of Mr. Obama’s ability to handle an international crisis, compared with about one-quarter who say the same about Mr. Romney. The survey was largely conducted before foreign affairs took on heightened importance when the United States ambassador to Libya and three other Americans there were killed on Tuesday.
While the poll reflects a prevailing sentiment among Mr. Romney’s advisers that he must find a way to change the dynamics of the race, the findings also highlight a lingering discontent running through the electorate. A slim majority of likely voters still disapprove of how Mr. Obama has handled the economy and 7 in 10 rank the economy as fairly bad or very bad.
But with only two weeks before the first wave of early voting begins in some states, the presidential race has taken on a new sense of urgency, the poll found, with enthusiasm increasing among voters. A plea for patience, which Mr. Obama delivered at the Democratic convention, appears to be resonating with some voters.
“I believe the country is going in the right direction, little by little,” Anita Young, 42, an independent voter from Ardmore, Pa., said in a follow-up interview. “Are things moving fast enough? No, of course not, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
As Greg Sargent pointed out before this CBS/NYT poll was released, this is isn’t the only recent poll that appears to be showing a decided shift in opinion on the Presidential candidates and the economy:
Well, we now have four national polls that show Obama and Romneytied on the question — perhaps suggesting a potentially signfiicant shift in the race’s dynamics:
* The new Fox News poll shows Obama and Romney exactly tied at 46-46 on who would better improve the economy and create jobs.
* This week’s CNN poll finds Obama and Romney in a statistical tie, 50-49, on who would better handle the economy.
* This week’s Post poll finds Obama and Romney in a statistical tie, 47-45, on the same question.
* A Rasmussen poll on Tuesday found Obama and Romney at 47-45 on who is more trusted on job creation.
If the above polling is right, Romney may no longer be enjoying the built in advantage he seemed to have for months. That advantage was that more voters seemed willing to grant him the presumption of economic superiority because of his business background and because he represents an alternative to the chief executive they are disillusioned with due to the sluggishness of the recovery. Now, after both conventions, the two are tied in national polling on who can be more trusted to get the economy back on track.
So, now we have five polls that appear to be showing a deterioration of what had once been a decided advantage for Mitt Romney on the economy. What’s ironic is that this is happening while polls continue to show that more than 50% of Americans disapprove of way the President his handling the economy. To some extent, this change in the polls on a single issue is simple a reflection of the fact that the President has, at least for the moment, broken away from the “Static State Election” model that we’ve seen for most of the summer. Thanks in part to a Democratic Convention that was, by all accounts, more successful than its Republican alternative and the fact that the Romney campaign chose not to use their convention to highlight specific details of what their candidate would do differently than the President, the President has moved into a lead that is nearly outside the margin of error. As of today, which takes into account this morning’s release of the Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll that shows Romney leading by 2 points (a drop from yesterday’s lead of three points), the President currently has a lead in the RCP average of +3.1, but you can really see how the numbers have changed in the chart:
There’s been a definite break away in favor of the President over the past two weeks or so, a clear sign that he’s benefited from the convention coverage. So it’s not entirely surprising that he’d be closing the gap on the “who would handle the economy better?” question as well. If this trend keeps up, then the President is likely to go into the debates with a 3-5 point lead in the polls, at which point Romney will have three chances to make his case. It’s also worth noting that, in many states, early voting will start shortly after the first debate on October 3rd so, whatever impression the candidates make at that debate could become decisive in states like Ohio.
All of this poses a problem for Romney, though. If he’s losing his advantage on the economy, it’s going to be that much harder for him to convince voters to fire the incumbent President. Not impossible, but certainly far more difficult. It will be interesting to see what the next several weeks of economic reports tells us and what impact they have on the polls, for example. So far, several months of bad jobs reports and disappointing GDP growth reports have barely moved the needle in the Presidential race, but at least Romney supporters could point to the fact that they reinforced their candidate’s strong numbers on the economy. Now, though, that advantage seems to be slipping away and, with it, the best argument that Mitt Romney has against President Obama, that he has utterly failed to create the conditions for real economic growth that are necessary to fix the economy.
In a post today, Greg Sargent speculates that the use of Bill Clinton as a surrogate has helped the President on the economy:
The use of Clinton in the new ad is also interesting: As noted here recently, the Obama campaign believes that true undecided voters see Clinton as a kind of “referee” figure on the economy — hence the ad’s back-to-back footage of Clinton and Obama both making the case that electing a Republican president would take us back to the policies that got us into trouble in the first place. Clinton will play a major role in trying to get swing voters to feel that things are indeed recovering.
If the poll numbers are indication, then that may be exactly what’s happening. If it continues, then Mitt Romney’s path to victory may end up having a “Road Closed” sign on it.